ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — Tropical Storm Erika unleashed severe flooding across Dominica on Thursday, triggering landslides that destroyed at least 20 homes in the tiny eastern Caribbean island as authorities searched for five people reported missing.
Nearly 9 inches (23 centimetres) of rain fell on the mountainous country late Wednesday, followed by another 6 inches (15 centimetres) early Thursday, according to the Antigua Weather Service.
“The situation is grim. It is dangerous,” said Ian Pinard, Dominica’s communications minister.
Two people were reported missing in the capital, and another three in the island’s southeastern region, said national disaster official Don Corriette. About 80 per cent of the island was without electricity, and water supply was cut off, authorities said. The main airport was closed due to flooding.
The main river that cuts through the capital overflowed its banks and surging water crashed into the principal bridge that leads into Roseau, whose roads were littered with fallen trees and light poles. Some streets were turned into fast-flowing rivers.
Acting Prime Minister Rayburn Blackmoore asked people to remain calm and stay indoors.
“Do not go sightseeing,” he said. “The situation is very dangerous.”
Erika was centered about 125 miles (205 kilometers) west of Guadeloupe, and was moving west at 16 mph (26 kph) with maximum sustained of 50 mph (85 kph), according to the US National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Erika was expected to move near Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Thursday and be near or just north of the Dominican Republic on Friday as it heads toward South Florida early next week. The storm was not expected to gain strength in the next two days.
Officials shuttered schools, government offices and businesses across the region and warned of flash flooding because of dry conditions caused by the worst drought to hit the Caribbean in recent years. Authorities warned power and water service might be temporarily cut off.
Puerto Rico Gov Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the storm could bring badly needed rains to the parched US territory.
“We’re happy given the dry conditions, but it does highlight the need to be on alert,” he said, adding that heavy downpours could lead to flash floods.
Garcia activated the National Guard as a precaution and asked that everyone head home by noon on Thursday. The heaviest rains were expected to hit Puerto Rico’s eastern region, with the storm expected to pass about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of the island overnight Thursday, said Odalys Martinez, with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
The storm also was generating heavy wind in nearby Antigua, and people should prepare for more rain, said Philmore Mullin, director of Antigua and Barbuda’s National Office of Disaster Services. He said in a phone interview that no damage or power outages had been reported.
Dozens of flights were canceled in the region, and the US Coast Guard closed all ports in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Government officials in the US Virgin Islands said St. John would experience the heaviest winds at around 58 mph. (93 kph)
Meanwhile in the Pacific, Ignacio strengthened into a hurricane. The storm’s maximum sustained winds increased Thursday morning to 90 mph (150 kph).
Hurricane Ignacio was centered about 1,135 miles (1,825 kilometers) east-southeast of Hilo, Hawaii, and was moving west-northwest near 13 mph (20 kph).
Also in the Pacific, a new tropical storm formed Thursday morning. Tropical Storm Jimena had maximum sustained winds near 45 mph (75 kph) and was expected to strengthen to a hurricane Friday. Jimena was centered about 890 miles (1,430 kilometers) south-southwest of the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.